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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Scientists hoist by their own petard

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/31/2011 09:24:00 am

Now, as we all know, there is a pressing problem that we have—all this carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is warming the planet and we are all going to fry unless we severely reduce our output of said gas.

Unfortunately, nearly all of the effective ways of generating the energy that makes our world go round emit CO2 to a large extent; but, so severe is the problem, our politicians have responded to the urging of the scientific experts and put in place a number of measures to make carbon emission—and thus energy generation—much more expensive.

Now, do remember that this is all climate scientists because, of course, there is a "consensus" on the climate change topic. And almost all other scientists have urged us to listen to the climate scientists because they know what they are talking about and we laymen—even those who have a rather more specialist knowledge of statistical analysis or computer model programming—have no idea at all.

So, basically, we can say that the vast majority of the world's scientists back urgent action on carbon emissions: energy must be made much more expensive. Oh, wait, we didn't mean for us!
World-class research into future sources of green energy is under threat in Britain from an environmental tax designed to boost energy efficiency and drive down carbon emissions, scientists claim.

Some facilities must find hundreds of thousands of pounds to settle green tax bills, putting jobs and research at risk.

Altogether now... Aaaaaaaaaaaaahahahahahahahahaha! Aaaaahahahaha! Ah-ha! Ha!

Wait—let me catch my breath.

Aaaaaaaaaahaahahahahahahahaa! Aaaaaahahaha.

Whew.

Right. I... Aaaaahahaha. Ha.

OK, no, really, I'm sorry. I haven't laughed that much since Chris Huhne admitted that he drove a car.

Anyway, so, what are these scientists going to do? Could it be that they are going to cough up gladly, pointing out that this is precisely the outcome that they wanted? Ah, no.
The unexpected impact of the government's carbon reduction commitment (CRC) scheme is so severe that scientists and research funders have lobbied ministers for an exemption to reduce the bills.

No, absolutely not.

Alright, I admit that a good deal of the satisfaction of the above is based purely on spite: you bastards (as in the scientific community) insisted that we take action on climate change—and you got it. I don't see why everyone but you should suffer.

Yes, it might seem counter-intuitive that government-funded initiatives should have to pay government taxes (in the same way that it might seem odd that government-funded jobs need to pay taxes) but there are, as Timmy points out, a couple of valid reasons (i.e. ones not based on spite) why scientists should not be exempt.
  1. It would be a subsidy. And we want subsidies to be out in the open. We want to be able to add up what whatever rule or regulation, tax or charge, actually costs us. So we don’t want any hidden subsidies at all. This applies to everything: council house rents should be full market rents, even if that means everyone gets housing benefit. We can then look at the benefit bill and see how much housing the poor costs us. Trains and farmers should pay full whack on fuel duty, even if that means we then have to send them a cheque to compensate. We want to be able to see, exactly, what their subsidy is.

  2. We absolutely do not want things run by politicians and bureaucrats to be free of the rules politicians and bureuacrats impose upon the rest of us. It’s our only hope of reducing the complexities, that they have to struggle with their impositions as we do. Note the screams from MPs as their expenses are doled out in the same manner the dole is doled out. Quite bloody right too.

But it is very entertaining, nonetheless, to listen to the various sob stories highlitedby the Grauniad article...
Among the worst hit is the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire, a facility for research into almost limitless carbon-free energy. The lab faces an estimated £400,000 payment next year, raising the spectre of job losses and operational cuts. "Considering our research is aimed at producing zero-carbon energy, it seems ironic and perverse to clobber us with an extra bill," a senior scientist at the lab said. "We have to use electricity to run the machine and there is no way of getting around that."

And that is different from other businesses how, exactly?

Oh, by the way, you're flogging a dead horse: you may have the largest fusion reactor in Europe but if it actually generated, you know, any electricity then you could offset the costs, eh? But it doesn't.
Another Oxfordshire laboratory, the Diamond synchrotron light source, expects a £300,000 bill under the CRC. A spokesman said the lab hoped to offset the bill by investing in better climate control and motion-sensitive lighting.

Well, that's what the government is telling private businesses to do—why should it not apply to these scientist types?
At the Daresbury laboratory in Cheshire, the CRC bill will worsen financial woes that have forced managers to draft redundancy packages and consider cutting back on equipment. "Science is already struggling here and now we are being charged an additional premium to go about our everyday business while working to address the government's own stated grand challenges in science for the 21st century.," said Lee Jones, an accelerator physicist at the laboratory.

Well, we are all doing that, Lee: after all, some of us have to try to "address the government's own stated grand challenges" for GDP growth over the next five years—also in the face of rising costs and taxes.

So, with all due respect, o science types, you can take your exemption and stuff it up your pontificating arseholes.

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/31/2011 09:24:00 am


Monday, May 30, 2011

Referism

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/30/2011 02:05:00 pm

In 2003 interview with John Hawkins, Milton Friedman famously said...
I am in favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it's possible. The reason I am is because I believe the big problem is not taxes, the big problem is spending. The question is, "How do you hold down government spending?" Government spending now amounts to close to 40% of national income not counting indirect spending through regulation and the like. If you include that, you get up to roughly half. The real danger we face is that number will creep up and up and up. The only effective way I think to hold it down, is to hold down the amount of income the government has. The way to do that is to cut taxes."

Which is fine as far as it goes. However, the problem is a little more fraught than that, because governments like having money—money enables whichever party is in power to lavish gifts on its favoured groups, thus ensuring that they will continue to vote for said party.

At the same time, however, said government doesn't want to annoy the other parties favoured groups too much, so it does cut their funding or raise their taxes too much—or else they will never get the votes from those few people who are likely to switch allegiance (and thus win the election for the party).

Let's use a very basic illustration...
  • Party 1 spends £1 billion on the unions and the poor before it is unseated by Party 2. Spending is now at £1 billion.

  • Party 2 spends £1 billion on large corporations. However, it doesn't want to unduly piss off Party 1's supporters, so they only cut spending on these groups by £0.2 billion. Spending is now at £1.8 billion.

  • Party 1 wants to restore the funding to its favoured groups, and more—so, it spends another £1 billion on them. And, like Party 2, it doesn't want to piss off the corporates too much—so it only cuts their funding by £0.2 billion. Spending is now at £4 billion.

  • Party 2 gets in, etc. etc.

This is the basic mechanism by which government spending increases—it's why the state spent 8% of GDP in 1880, and now spends about 50% of GDP now. Another reason is, of course, that the state did far less in 1880 in terms of interference in home markets: about half of that 8% was military spending.

But, you see, once you start giving your voters money, it becomes very difficult to take it away again: and so, the more the government spends on benefits and other sweeteners, the more difficult it gets to cut those costs.

The mechanism that is supposed to curb taxation—or spending—is that of democratic elections. If taxes get too high—so the theory goes—then the voters will simply vote out the high-taxing government. This is what is supposed to keep the state in line.

Unfortunately, we don't need Jonathan Aitken to point out that "one vote every four or five years in not tremendously important" because we already know it.

Politicians can get into government promising all sorts of things—such as low taxes—but, as we also know, "manifesto pledges are not subject to legitimate expectation". So, politicians tell a few big lies every four or five years, and then do not have to deliver on them.

But surely, if a government wants to get re-elected, they will have to enact some fiscal restraint immediately before a general election? No.

What tends to happen is not that governments cut taxes just before an election—no. What they tend to do is simply increase spending to their favoured groups (in this case, nearly everyone) because they can borrow the money to do so: and, if they don't get elected again, well, then it's their rivals' problem, eh?

And the trouble is that there are upper limits to the amount of tax that a government can raise—not simply before voters get really pissed off, but also because people start finding ways in which to avoid said taxes (one of the factors that give rise to the phenomenon known as the Laffer Curve).

One of the ways to avoid taxes is to work less; another is to employ fewer people or to make less profit—these are just some of the reasons why higher government spending leads to lower GDP growth—in fact, according to the OECD, every additional percent of GDP taken by government is to reduce per capita GDP by 0.7%. And that, of course, makes everyone poorer than they might be.

So, the government cannot raise enough tax, and so they have to borrow to keep the ever-increasing funds flowing to their voters. And so we find ourselves in the current mess: the governments can't raise tax anymore because they would mightily piss off one bunch of voters, but they can't cut spending because they will piss off the other bunch of voters. And so governments of all stripes have simply borrowed more and more and more in the vague hope that something will turn up.

Or—like some ever more frantic game of pass the explosive, shit-filled parcel—the respective governments hope that, should nothing materialise, at least the whole shebang will blow up whilst their rivals are in power rather than them.

All of which—plus our current travails—goes to show that whilst Milton Friedman is not wrong, his statement quoted above does not tell the whole story. Because holding down taxation has not stopped our governments overspending: not even the very real threat of "bankruptcy" is doing that.

The basic premise was right: as one episode of Yes, Minister pointed out, governments do not work out what they need to spend and then raise that amount of tax—they work out how much tax they can raise and then work out what to spend it on.

But I don't think that it even works that way any more.

I think governments work out how much they want to spend; then they work out the maximum possible that they can raise from tax, and desperately hope that they can borrow the deficit.

And since all of our major political parties operate in this way, our choice of who to vote for at a general election is not particularly different or wide. Which is a problem.

It is a problem because even a general election ceases to be meaningful as a curb on spending: if you have three main parties and they are vowing to spend much the same amount of money, then it doesn't matter who you vote for—the spendthrift, GDP destroyers always get in.

And then, of course, we are subject to another five years of profligacy which we all must pay for—not only directly in taxes and deferred taxes (which is all that government debt is) but also through lower incomes and lower growth. (And, quite apart from anything else, lower incomes and lower growth means that there are more poor people who require (or desire) more government spending, etc.)

And we haven't even covered the perverse incentives that government spending creates.

So, here is the big fact—money is power. In theory but not, it seems, in practice.

You see, the government has, seemingly, all the power but doesn't have any money of its own: that money is ours—we earn it. So, why don't we have the power?

Because the state has the one thing that trumps money: it has guns and, additionally, a monopoly on legal force. If you don't pay your taxes, you go to prison.

I think that it is important to emphasise this point, which is why I consistently point out that taxation is extortion with menaces. Some, mostly on the Left, argue that this is not the case and that, by voting whichever political party into power, we—as a nation—acquiesce to this theft.

Which, as I have argued above in pointing out the similarities between the parties' economic policies, is a something of a fallacy because we are not, actually, presented with a choice. The only way we have of registering our disapproval of all of them is not to vote—a choice that increasing numbers of people take each year.

Besides, there are any numbers of policies that people vote on that are not directly to do with money (although most of them require money to be fulfilled).

So, what we really want to do is to be able to separate the money side from any other policy; and we want to do it more often than every four or five years.

Which is where EUReferendum's campaign for Referism comes in.
The executive (the former king) must refer to parliament each year for approval of its budget. Without that, it runs out of money. Our problem is—and the heart of all our problems—is that this process has become an empty ritual. No parliament has rejected a budget in living memory, and none is likely to.

So each year we see this great ritual, where the government of the day pretends to ask us for money, and we have to watch the empty charade of approval being given—only then to see vast amounts being spent on things of which the majority of us do not approve, such as the European Union.

This must stop. The ritual must turn back into substance, and there must be real control over the annual budget. The politicians cannot be trusted to discharge this duty. They have their fingers in the till and a vested interest in maintaining high levels of expenditure. The power must go to the people who pay the bills—us.

Indeed. But how might this be achieved (I think that you can guess)...? [Emphasis mine.]
The means by which must be achieved is through the ballot box, with an annual referendum. The budget must, each year, be submitted to the people for approval, and comes into force only once approved. The politicians must make their case, put their arguments, and then ask us for the money... and they have to say please. We, the people, decide whether they get it. We, the people, have the power to say no.

If you want politics—you got it. Do you want out of the EU? Fine, build up a caucus and vote down the budget. Make it plain to the politicians that no money will be forthcoming until we withdraw. Simples... and it is that simple. Starve the beast, rather than risk everything on an all-or-nothing rigged ballot, given at the discretion of our masters. And let's do it at local level as well.

Logically, there might have to be a fall-back position, where the executive can draw down maintenance funds, pending approval, to keep basis services going—or not. If Congress does not approve the budget in the US, it falls. That tends to concentrate minds. Only, in this case, it is the people who stop the money. And money talks.

As Richard points out, the real value in this is that it provides a continuous process of control. We already know, because a judge has told us, that manifesto pledges are not subject to legitimate expectation—that means that political parties can lie and lie again in order to get into office and there is no way in which we can hold them to their promises.

However, if they have to come back to the electorate every, single year—regardless of party or manifesto promises—then the government will not only need to justify the next year's spending, they will need to show that the last year's actually achieved what they claimed it would.
It is that which makes the big difference—we are talking about a continuous process of control. By contrast, a one-off referendum, agreed (or not) by the government, on a grace and favour basis, for its own tactical advantage, is to concede the power to the government. We, the people, still have to go to The Man, and ask him "pretty please" can we have a referendum. When we hold the purse strings, The Man says "please" to us.

Which is all very well, but how do we achieve this aim?
So how does this become an "ism"? Well, in my earlier piece, I wrote about the need of society to communicate to its government its "wishes and needs", to make it perform and yet prevent it from taking over, swapping the master-servant relationship.

We do it by controlling the purse strings, and we do that by making the government refer to us for permission to raise and spend funds. Our tool is the referendum, our philosophy is thus "referism" and we are "referists" or, in colloquial terms, "reffers". If we want a political party, and I would not advise it, then we set up a Referist Party.

Better, I thought, we work with the existing parties. We build a movement and make it clear that the first party to offer an annual referendum on the budget gets our vote. We could, tactically, even pick on one of the parties, and tell it that it will never get into power unless it agrees to our terms. We have the power to do that, if we mobilise and then use it.

After some experience of attempting to get bloggers together to do something in the real world, I am heavily sceptical that it can be achieved—as I pointed out on the EUReferendum forum. Richard's reply was confident...
One must not ask too much, too soon. All revolutions have to have an intellectual base ... their own "ism". The blogosphere ... if it cares to do so, can build brand recognition for an "ism", cocking a snoot at the MSM. That in itself it a worthwhile and necessary task ... great fun, and doable.
...

We need to believe in our own strength and power ... but it does take time. From the start of the publication of the Chartists' "six points" (1838) it took them ten years to reach London with a major rally ... but they changed politics forever. What has been lacking so far is focus ... our "ism". Now, have ism, will travel.

Very well then, your humble Devil will happily throw what weight he has left behind this concept of Referism—it is an interesting idea and, if achieved, would shackle the politicians to the will of those who pay for the government's profligacy.

Indeed, the idea that the government—and local authorities—must come grovelling to beg us for their funds each and every year is enough to make the entire exercise worthwhile...

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/30/2011 02:05:00 pm


Quantum computing

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/30/2011 01:55:00 pm

Via Dale Amon at Samizdata, I see that D-Wave have made the world's first commercial sale of a quantum computer.
On Wednesday, D-Wave Systems made history by announcing the sale of the world's first commercial quantum computer. The buyer was Lockheed Martin Corporation, who will use the machine to help solve some of their "most challenging computation problems." Lockheed purchased the system, known as D-Wave One, as well as maintenance and associated professional services. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

D-Wave One uses a superconducting 128-qubit (quantum bit) chip, called Rainier, representing the first commercial implementation of a quantum processor. An early prototype, a 16-qubit system called Orion, was demonstrated in February 2007. At the time, D-Wave was talking about future systems based on 512-qubit and 1024-qubit technology, but the 128-qubit Rainier turned out to be the company's first foray into the commercial market.

According to D-Wave co-founder and CTO Geordie Rose, D-Wave One, the technology uses a method called "quantum annealing" to solve discrete optimization problems. While that may sound obscure, it applies to all sorts of artificial intelligence-type applications such as natural language processing, computer vision, bioinformatics, financial risk analysis, and other types of highly complex pattern matching.

As the subsequent interview with Geordie Rose reveals, proof that quantum computing is actually being undertaken by the chip was demonstrated in a Nature paper recently (£); further, Google—whose engineers worked with D-Wave on some of the software components—have also published some information on how the system has been used.

All of this is pretty impressive, but don't expect such technology to come to the consumer market in the near future: in operation the machine needs some 15 kilowatts of energy—not least because the chip needs to operate at near absolute zero—and the box's footprint is about 100 square feet!

Still, it's good to see that such mind-boggling technology can be produced—and by the private sector too*...

UPDATE: Counting Cats comments on this development in terms of its application to cryptography.

* Yes, this is a dig at all those idiots who think that only governments can invest ton of cash into scientific research.

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/30/2011 01:55:00 pm


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hopey changey Barack

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/25/2011 10:13:00 pm

It's rare that I disagree with Katharine Birbalsingh—she's a friend and an inspiring, passionate person—but I have to say that this article doesn't float my boat.

Katharine's main point seems to be that black children the country over might at least know who Obama is, and that he's not white. Hmmm.

However, one wonders whether holding up a man who is becoming best known for ordering the extra-judicial killings of suspectseven if they are complete bastards—should really be a role-model for black kids...

UPDATE: I don't know what "poor, inner-city black kids" really want: I simply don't know enough of them. I just don't like identity politics—I believe in the individual.

And, were I to look up to anyone it wouldn't be because they were a white person—it would be because they were a good person.

And yes, I know that "good" is a somewhat nebulous term—but I am pretty sure that it does not apply to murderers.

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/25/2011 10:13:00 pm


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/24/2011 09:28:00 am

Blogger appears to be playing up a bit (I can't post any comments, for instance)—until it's fixed, service might be (even more) patchy.

UPDATE: working again now.

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/24/2011 09:28:00 am


Monday, May 23, 2011

Leaping the wrong way

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/23/2011 09:06:00 pm

Well, it seems that Ryan Giggs has finally been named as the footballer who gained an injunction to hide an alleged affair with Imogen Thomas (who was apparently on Big Brother)— a somewhat inevitable outcome after all of the media hype even if, as EUReferendum points out, there are far more important matters (and far more important injunctions) that our MSM might turn its jaundiced eye towards.

The MSM have been vocal in their outrage against super injunctions, although immensely coy in protecting their own wallets—preferring instead to rely on the distributed voices of the Twitterati and blogosphere to do the dirty work on their behalf.

As such, the dead tree press have been assiduous in reporting the turds of "wisdom" falling from the lips of our Masters in the Commons and the Lords, all of whom seem to have agreed the same form of words with which to condemn such legal instruments. Indeed, many in government have been extremely keen to witter on about how...
... laws should be made by the legislature, and not by the judges.

Well, yes: and, as I have long argued, MPs would serve this country better by concentrating on making good law—after all, no one else in this country can—rather than spending most of their time being over-paid, over-active wet nurses to their constituents.

Now, obviously, there are two ways in which such a law could go. The first is that enunciated by Matthew Sinclair on Twitter...
People keep saying we need new law to clarify #superinjunction issue, if it is modelled on 1st amendment, I'm game.

Indeed. Contrary to what many people in this country think—even though the vast numbers of special interest "hate" laws that have been passed in the last few years should have made it pretty fucking obvious—we have no right to free speech enshrined in our legal system.

This is partly, of course, because we tend not to make laws which specifically allow certain things, because our legal system is based on the idea that you can do anything that is not specifically banned. And we don't have a specific ban on free speech, only bans on certain types of speech—which means that we have no right to free speech.

Nevertheless, it would be nice to have the right to free speech enshrined in law. Do you think it will happen?

Nope. That would be to leap in entirely the right way—towards more liberty, more freedom.

Instead, the sack of shit known as Ken Clarke has opined—since it is axiomatic that we should not have privacy laws made by judges—that what we need is not to remove all curbs on free speech. No, any curbs on free speech should be made by our legislature.
Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, has indicated that a new privacy law will be introduced after warning that the public is not entitled to “know about the sex lives of footballers”.

Maybe. But then, I don't think that footballers have the right to curb free speech in order to hide the sordid details of their sex lives. As Lord Tebbit observes...
Soon after I entered the House of Commons I was approached by someone suggesting that I should take a particular course of action which I thought was somewhat inappropriate for a Member of The House. I asked the advice of Sir Harry Legge-Bourke, the Member for the Isle of Ely, Chairman of the 1922, an ex-Guardsman of distinction and as straight as a ramrod.

“Entirely a matter for you, dear boy,” he told me. “I wouldn’t dream of giving you any advice about that. But if you would not like to read in the Daily Mail tomorrow that you had done it… then don’t do it.”

It is not a bad test. Of course many of us may fail it at some time. But what is really shameful is to do something discreditable, then to purchase an injunction by pretending it was a private family matter, when it was not.

The old economic saw of "revealed preferences" determines that you can divine what people really think by observing what they do, not what they say.

Bearing that in mind, it is a measure of the true liberal intentions of the members of this Coalition that—when faced with an opportunity either to increase liberty or constrain it—they have decided to embrace the illiberal.

No matter who wins the election, the authoritarian fucking politicians always get in, eh?

EDIT: I have edited some of the first sentence to be couched in slightly more careful—as in legally compliant—terms, e.g. adding "alleged", etc.

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/23/2011 09:06:00 pm


Oh look—a free lunch!

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/23/2011 07:59:00 pm

It's one of those great truisms that there is no such thing as a free lunch in economics—only trade-offs. However, over at the Adam Smith Institute blog, Timmy highlights the fact that—like most truisms—this particular aphorism is not always true.
Our usual method of describing this is to mutter about the debt to GDP ratio. As reasonable rules of thumb, below 30% it's irrelevant, once it starts going over 60% we see future growth being constrained, above 100% something really must be done and over 150%, unless you're something very strange like Japan, you're bust.

So, in all our talk about how we're going to deal with the national debt yes, there's room for cutting spending so as to avoid adding to the debt and thus make everything more difficult. But there's also room to increase the size of the economy so as to reduce the ratio. No, not by simply borrowing more and splurging in some hope that the Keynesian Fairy will sprinkle growth dust. But a change in the tax system.

Here's the growth, the extra growth, that could come from a simple change in the way we raise taxes:

Clean income tax is flat rate no allowances, standard flat is with an allowance, transition relief means don't do it all at once.

No, we're not raising any different amounts, we're raising the same amount of tax in a different way. This doesn't mean cutting anything, this is purely the extra growth we'd get by changing the method, not amount, of taxation. As you can see, simply changing the method of taxation could give us a lovely little bolus of growth, one that reduces the national debt as a percentage of GDP and thus reduces the overall problem we face.

We can still do all the other things, or not, as the mood takes us, but this is a free lunch, that rarity in economics. And free lunches, given their rarity, really should be eaten.

As Timmy also gleefully points out, the ASI have been advocating a flat tax for some time...

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/23/2011 07:59:00 pm


Thursday, May 19, 2011

He's more machine now, than man...

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/19/2011 09:19:00 pm

... twisted and evil...

Well, ish.

Thanks for all of the sympathy, o loyal readers: in the end, my dentist—who is very good—managed to fill my front tooth and managed to sort out the right molar with deft use of filling and a titanium pin.

It's back on Monday to sort out the left molar which will be dealt with in similar vein...

Anyway, whilst I am in meandering mode, I would like to bit farewell to two of my favourite and most long-standing blog-reads.

The first actually shut down in April, but I still very much miss that Irish bastard, Twenty Major.
Real life means I’ve got no time to do the blog the way I want to do it anymore and I think it’s better to announce it than let it fade away.

Thank you to all the readers and contributors. I know there’s a nice little community here but maybe it’ll re-emerge somewhere else. If it does, let me know. Thank you to all the interesting, intelligent and decent people who have spent time on here down the years. I’ll miss the chat and the laughs but that’s life.
...

Take it easy, I wish those of you who aren’t total cunts all the very best.

One can only hope that he is, somewhere, still smoking in Irish bars.

The second blog riding off into the sunset—though perhaps not terminally—is that of my friend and all-round good egg, The Englishman.
It has been a busy seven days; I became a Grandfather, resigned from my job, turned fifty and have just been offered a new job that I hadn't applied for. It is only part time and for three months, I turned down the chance of full time as I still have other irons in the fire. But I think it will be really interesting and the workplace is wonderful and fascinating. And there is every chance the contract will be extended.

However I will be a small speck on the cogwheels of State, with Her Majesty and Her Ministers as my ultimate employers and being a loyal and humble servant it is probably only fitting I am no longer rude about their infinite wisdom.

This isn't a "I will never blog again" post because this blog and you, the readers, have given me so much fun and education over the last seven years that it would be hard to draw it to a close. It just marks that there may be changes and unexplained haituses.

Let us hope that he does, indeed, return.

And in any case, o Englishman, I shall see you at the chilli cook-off: that will have to be compensation for not reading your pellets of wisdom every morning...!

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/19/2011 09:19:00 pm


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A personal note

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/18/2011 10:58:00 pm

There is an awful lot that I need to comment on—not least the apparent demise of the Libertarian Party—but I am slightly distracted at present. Mainly by the fact that—whilst the company is doing well and I still love my work—two of my molars have disintegrated in the last 24 hours.

Like most people, I hate dentists. Like many, I don't show it*.

But the extent of work that is going to need to be done frightens me: not simply because two (as far as I can tell) dead teeth are going to need to be filled, but also because the cost is huge: I will be very surprised if I don't walk out some £300 lighter.

Shit.

As some readers will know, I was caught drink-driving back in February, and the biggest pisser was the £600 lawyers' fees. I got sentenced to 80 hours Community Service; this bit I almost enjoyed and, indeed, the boss of the charity shop in which I was working asked if I might come back and volunteer.

I might.

I have rather more exciting things to interest me. The plans that I have been working on at my job are nearing fruition (we are still looking for a web developer, if anyone fancies coming to work at a low-paid but extraordinarily exciting job (with equity)), and the Free School project in which I am involved is just so incredibly... stimulating.

Shocking too**, but stimulating.

Life is good. As such, blogging about how shite life is still doesn't appeal. Sorry.

Anyone who has met me can probably testify (at length) on how much I absolutely, totally love my job—and the people that I work with. We are going to do great things. I feel really sorry for those who either hate or are indifferent to what they do for eight hours a day.

All I have to do is find about £1,000 to pay lawyers and dentists and I shall be very happy.

Anyway, the very best to you all. And if Chris Huhne is fucked, my week will be made much better...

* Except, of course, on a hugely what used to be a hugely public blog.

** I shall blog shortly about the stupidity, bigotry and ignorance that we have encountered in trying to set this up. You will be shocked—especially if you are a member of a teaching trade union.

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/18/2011 10:58:00 pm


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Northern Line extension proposal

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/17/2011 09:12:00 pm

Like Blue Eyes, I am in favour of the proposed Northern Line extension, as far as it goes—which is not very far.
For a part of London so near to the centre, it is crazy how inaccessible this area is. If I had to find something critical to say, it would be that the route is not ambitious enough—could it not head further West to join up with somewhere on the District line?

When I replied to the consultation survey, my own suggestion was that the line should extend beyond Battersea and terminate at (the relatively near-by) Clapham Junction which, despite being the busiest rail station in Europe (by number of trains), has no Tube station.

The driver—and, indeed, source of much of the money—seems to be the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station, which looks to be (if it actually happens) a rather exciting development of a sadly neglected landmark.

Let us see how it goes...

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/17/2011 09:12:00 pm


A WTF moment

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/17/2011 08:54:00 pm

Sitting on the train back from work this evening, I happened to notice a somewhat pious-looking woman next to me take out a Mac laptop; the lovely machine was marred by what looked suspiciously like lefty protest stickers.

It was only a few minutes later—when said woman had been hammering away at the keys for some little while—that I happened to glance across at the title of the essay that she was working on...
Visual-based Ethnography for Youth Studies in Education Research: an Example from North America.

People often go on about my privileged education but, despite all the money expended, the teaching cannot have been up to much because I have—quite literally—no fucking clue what that heap of bollocks above actually means.

Perhaps someone who has more recently fought their way through the intellectual wreckage that passes for the British education system could enlighten me...?

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/17/2011 08:54:00 pm


Sunday, May 15, 2011

That Rally Against Debt...

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/15/2011 08:28:00 pm

Yes, there were only a few hundred there but it was a good vibe (as these young folks say). I think that Simon Clark sums it up most pithily...
We convened, we made our point, and then we made a beeline for the pub. Isn't that what normal people do?

Yep. And I don't know about anyone else, but the wife and I drank a skinful and mixed with some excellent people—including Nigel Farage (I'm always pro- a politician who will not only join the great unwashed in the pub, but who will also stand his round), Misanthrope Girl, Old Holborn, Guido and Harry, Brian Micklethwait, Dick Puddlecoate, Mark Wallace, Trixy, a bunch of Libertarian Party members, and many other fun people.

Basically, I don't know whether the rally will have an effect, nor do I know whether or not it was the start of a more concerted campaign. I do know that I had a very fun day with a good bunch of people.

What more could one ask for, eh?

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/15/2011 08:28:00 pm


Thursday, May 12, 2011

More Polywell news

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/12/2011 01:19:00 am

Plasma shines within EMC2's WB-7 device...

Via the IEC Fusion Technology blog, after the recent coy confirmation of continuance, there has been some more positive news on the Polywell fusion reaction front. [Emphasis mine.]
A Navy-funded effort to harness nuclear fusion power reports that its unconventional plasma device is operating as designed and generating "positive results" more than halfway through the project.
...

So how far along is EMC2? The current experiment is known as WB-8, which follows up on WB-5, 6 and 7. "WB" stands for "Wiffle Ball," which describes the spherical swiss-cheese look of the plasma containment cage. The $7.9 million contract covers work to see whether Bussard's fusion concept can be scaled up to a size capable of putting out more power than it consumes.
...

But based on the experiments so far, Park thinks there's a chance that it could be done in a sufficiently large Wiffleball reactor, costing on the order of $100 million to $200 million. That sounds like a pretty good deal, especially in comparison with the $3.5 billion that's been spent so far on fusion research at the National Ignition Facility and the $20 billion expected to be spent on the international ITER fusion project.
...

"It's a very nice machine," he said. "I like what we have so far. It's quite well-built, relatively flexible to actually explore a lot of areas and find what's best. Achieving the plasma for fusion is obviously a tall order. ... You don't just push the pedal on a Ferrari and drive the car. Like an F-18 or a stealth bomber, you have to learn how to operate it properly."
...

Park figures that the money provided under the WB-8 contract should last until the end of the year, depending on how efficiently the EMC2 team is able to stretch the money out. By then, the engineers in New Mexico and their backers in the Navy should know whether it's worth going ahead with the next step, perhaps even with the big demonstration reactor. Park hopes that WB-8 will be the last small-scale experimental machine EMC2 will have to build.

"This machine should be able to generate 1,000 times more nuclear activity than WB-7, with about eight times more magnetic field," said Park, quoting the publicly available information about WB-8. "We'll call that a good success. That means we're on track with the scaling law."

As Park points out, EMC2 cannot be too open about their work since their customer—the US Navy—has stipulated some degree of secrecy. However, all parties seem to be quietly confident...

So, onwards and upwards!

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/12/2011 01:19:00 am


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A grave concept error

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/11/2011 08:53:00 pm

In his own inimitable style, ChickenYoghurt takes issue with Mad Nad Dorries's claim (in an interview with the Sunday Times, and reported at The Nadine Dorries Project*) that the UK has a "socialist elite".
I for one am cockerhoop at this news. Brothers and sisters, let us rejoice! There’s me thinking we toil under the stern gaze of emotionally retarded millionaires and other assorted neo-liberal sociopaths when all the time we’ve been living in a Marxist paradise. At last I can stop bitching about the government and enjoy the utopia I’ve hitherto failed to notice flowering around me.

Ah, well... The trouble is, CY, you've made rather an error here. Leaving aside the issue of whether or not there is a socialist elite in the UK, you have made the schoolboy error of assuming that—if there were—that this elite would have the slightest interest in making your life any better in any way whatso-fucking-ever.

They wouldn't. Just think of the kind of champagne socialists** you know that would make up this so-called elite—do you seriously think that they have any desire to improve the lives of ordinary people?

Tired comparisons they may be but—lest ye be tempted to point out that Brown and Blair were not real socialists—do you think that the elites of Soviet Russia, the Khmer Rouge's Cambodia or Communist China had any interest in the wellbeing of their peoples? I think not.

So it is a grave error to assume that you'd notice any sort of Utopia even if the UK was run by a socialist elite...

* Is there really a need for this site? Is there a blog out there called the Roger Irrelevant Project...?

** I assure you that the fact that both of my examples work for the tax-dodging, hedge-fund investing Scott Trust Ltd is purest coincidence.

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/11/2011 08:53:00 pm


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Typical!

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/10/2011 11:27:00 pm

For a number of years, your humble Devil and various other demonic minions have been tracking "fake charities"—organisations that claim to be charities but, in fact, take massive amounts of state cash in order to lobby those same governments.

Greenpeace was, in fact, one of the very first organisations that was added to the FakeCharities website—indeed, it was one of those "charities" that inspired it. It is entirely fucking typical, then, that Greenpeace is not currently on that site because we are currently re-investigating their accounts and revising their details.

Why is this fact absolutely bloody typical?

Because—as EUReferendum gleefully points outGreenpeace has lost its charitable status in New Zealand. And why?
Greenpeace New Zealand's political activities mean it cannot register as a charity, the High Court has decided.

Greenpeace appealed against a 2010 ruling by the Charities Commission which found its promotion of "disarmament and peace" was political rather than educational and while it did not directly advocate illegal acts, Greenpeace members had acted illegally.

In his judgment Justice Paul Heath found the commission was correct in its judgment and turned down the Greenpeace appeal.

"Non-violent, but potentially illegal activities (such as trespass), designed to put (in the eyes of Greenpeace) objectionable activities into the public spotlight were an independent object disqualifying it from registration as a charitable entity," the judge said.

Obviously it could not have happened to a nicer bunch of people.

Snigger.

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/10/2011 11:27:00 pm


A stimulus doesn't work

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/10/2011 10:40:00 pm

As regular readers will know, your humble Devil has not read any economics or philosophy books (if you exclude Ayn Rand); the philosophy that I expound has been gathered and moulded by events and the application of thought to the problems that I see. It is for this reason that I am, in fact, not nearly as dogmatic in person as you might expect.

Having said that, I have picked up enough to know something of these matters (mainly from bloggers, it must be said) and, as such, I can appreciate that both of Econstories.tv's Keynes vs. Hayek rap battle videos are great, laying out the foundations of their respective philosophies in an easy to understand and also, dare I say, rather funky way.





Whoever you think has won these little rap-spats—and yes, I think it is Hayek—there are three other points that are worth considering.

The first is that Keynes maintained that any level of general taxation above 25% GDP was unsustainable—our governments are now spending near double that.

The second is that Keynesian economics does require that governments save money during the good times so that the stimulus required in the bad times is sustainable—he did not advocate that governments borrow money like a family-less terminal cancer victim on his last blow-out.

The third is possibly the most important of all—what if the stimulus, of the sort advocated by Keynes, does not actually work?

Tim Worstall's article at the Adam Smith Institute seems to suggest that, for certain types of advanced and open economies, the net impact of the fiscal stimulus is not necessarily positive and may, in fact, be negative.
Rather a lot of macroeconomics is conducted with models. Given the complexities, this is inevitable, but it is necessary, at least occasionally, to look up and calibrate the model against reality. Which is just what this paper (via Scott Sumner) has just done. For those of a Keynesian persuasion, the results aren't pretty.

You see, the central conceit, that government borrowing to spend boosts the economy by more than the amount of the spending, the multiplier, just isn't true. Just isn't true for us here in the UK, that is. The fiscal multiplier just doesn't multiply.
... the impact of government fiscal stimulus depends on key country characteristics, including the level of development, the exchange rate regime, openness to trade, and public indebtedness.

Higher development (like us) makes for a higher multiplier. Openness to trade for a lower. These two might, in our circumstances, roughly balance each other out. However:
Indebtedness also matters: when the outstanding debt of the central government exceeds 60 percent of GDP, the fiscal multiplier is not statistically different from zero on impact and it is negative in the long run.

Hmm, so, UK debt is, end Jan this year, 57.6% of GDP. So, at current borrowing rates we've about 3 months before the effects of deficit spending turn negative. But that's not the end of it:
Exchange rate flexibility is critical: economies operating under predetermined exchange rate regimes have long-run multipliers greater than one in some specifications, while economies with flexible exchange rate regimes have multipliers that are essentially zero.

The pound is extremely flexible: so none of the fiscal stimulus we've already had has had any effect either.

If this paper is correct then that's it for Keynesianism in the UK, into the dustbin of history with it. For if the fiscal multiplier just don't multiply, there's no point to it all at all.

So, for economies like that of the UK, a fiscal stimulus is not only likely to do no good at all, it could be detrimental.

And that's apart from driving us further and further into debt.

So, that's why I am taking part in the Rally Against Debt next Saturday—I do hope that you'll join us...

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/10/2011 10:40:00 pm


An easy question

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/10/2011 08:17:00 pm

Iain Dale is soliciting people's answers for his LBC radio show tonight—I suggest that this might be an easy one...
7PM Coalition: Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the creation of the coalition. I want to know what you want to see the coalition do in its second year.

Well, I'd like to see them do what they promised in their first year—especially the restoration of civil liberties, cutting of red tape, slashing of the public sector and the shrinking of government.

Added to that, I would like to see elected police chiefs, the major reform of the NHS, the cutting of the tax burden, simpler taxation, the abolition of the Climate Change Act, the cessation in the persecution of smokers and drinkers, the reform of planning laws, more leaving people the fuck alone and Cameron telling the EU to fuck right off.

That'll do for starters. Next...?

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/10/2011 08:17:00 pm


Shades of grey

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/10/2011 01:18:00 am

There were a few comments on my last (epic) climate change post that seem to misunderstand the way in which science is done—especially as regards catastrophic anthropogenic climate change.

The main problem is that there is a certain amount of polarisation in the positions—how else can one possibly describe the "climate deniers" label (without using a goodly number of swearwords)?

So, let me try to explain some very fundamental points about this particular debate...
  1. Climate change

    No one really believes that the climate is entirely static; it quite obviously isn't, or we wouldn't have seasons or ice ages. Or, for that matter, the Mediaeval Warm Period and Little Ice Age.

    The climate changes, that is a fact: the question is, what makes it change?

  2. Anthropogenic

    Are these changes—indeed, can these changes—be triggered by human activity? If so, to what extent and, if these changes are significant, are they good or bad?

  3. Catastropic

    If these changes are both significant and bad—for given definitions of "bad"—then how catastrophic are they? Do they threaten the existence of our species (or others)? or are they just mildly inconvenient?

    And how catastrophic are these changes, in terms of allocating our scarce resources? Is it better to mitigate or to adapt?

Sensibly, all of these questions should be answered. Where a mechanism of change is encountered, then data should be gathered to test the hypotheses.

So, what do we know?

Well, actually we know extremely little.

We know that the Earth has been both considerably hotter and considerably colder in the past; it has also been very slightly hotter and very slightly colder.

We do know that when a very slightly hotter period became a very slightly colder period, then millions of humans died.

But, the problem is that we can't actually take tremendously accurate readings because there were no instruments to do so. We also know that, even where we try to reconstruct temperature series with proxies, our picture of the plant's climate covers a very short period of time geologically and is, not to put too fine a point on it, woefully inadequate.

Even where we do have direct measurements, we don't know how accurate those are. If you were to believe surfacestations.org—or, indeed, Anthony Watts's so-to-be-published paper—then there may be significant problems with this surely simple data set.

Thus, one of the main problems is that we don't really know whether there has, actually, been any significant warming over the last century—we think that it has been about 1°C but we are not really certain. Not least because the scientists don't seem to be tremendously good at understanding statistical analysis.

We do think that the increase in CO2 emissions by humans over the last century has the potential to increase global temperatures through, for instance, well-understood theories such as the Greenhouse Effect. But we don't know to what extent CO2 actually affects the climate through that mechanism.

Nor do we know what feedbacks are inherent in the system: or whether they are positive or negative.

In short, we don't know much—except that we are spending billions of pounds a year on trying to fund a mitigation solution to something that we don't even know is a problem.

I intend to pick up this baton again, but let's be clear—we are arguing questions of degree here, not absolutes.

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/10/2011 01:18:00 am


Monday, May 09, 2011

Safer neighbourhoods: it is to laugh boo

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/09/2011 02:33:00 pm

Over at Orphans of Liberty, JuliaM has an article up about "safer neighbourhoods"—as defined, naturally, by speed cameras.

It reminded me of an occasion when, a few years ago (four, I think), I accompanied a friend of mine to The Lord Mayor's Show. It is full of your typical English pageantry with the main feature being the three mile long procession, featuring floats from the various Guilds and organisations around the City of London.

Despite the rain, all the participants and audience were in a brilliant mood, whooping, cheering and laughing.

Until...

Until the Safer Neighbourhoods float came along. The float had the no-doubt prescribed number of adults (kitted out with CRB checks, I would imagine) but it was mainly full of children—many of whom were wearing hats in the shape of speed cameras. The whole float was adorned with images of speed cameras, and was replete with signs and messages intended to leave the audience in no doubt that speed cameras were "safer neighbourhoods".

For a moment, one could hear and sense the crowds' hesitation: speed cameras are not popular, but there were children on the float and, after all, weren't we all having a good time—too good a time, surely, to spoil it by being serious? So, hesitantly, the crowds came to their decision...

And they booed.

The disapproval started with a break in the cheering, and then a silence; then a "boo" could be heard from one or two places and then everyone was booing—showing how much they hated and loathed these contraptions. The boos were not as loud as the cheers had been, but they gathered strength and pace—but the float did not, could not. The children, one could see, were becoming increasingly bewildered, the adults guarding them tried to maintain the triumphant bonhomie whilst glaring at the crowd.

And as the float went past the stands at a walking pace, the British people—against their more compassionate judgement—gave a vocal demonstration of how they hate these money-grubbing pieces of street furniture, and the people who continue to push them.

I wonder whether the "safer neighbourhoods" float has ever tried that again? Or have they watered down or changed the image?

I didn't boo.

But I did feel angry at the adults—all those do-gooders and special interest groups and lobbyists and vested interests—who had quite deliberately decided to push the children into the front-line, to persuade these young people (who surely were too young to understand what they were being made to do) face the ire and contempt of the citizens...

It was shameful.

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/09/2011 02:33:00 pm


Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The art of letter-writing...

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/04/2011 10:16:00 pm

As Bishop Hill points out, someone submitted a partially successful FoI request for the Climategate emails of UAE Chancellor, Brandon Gough. There's not a massive amount of interesting stuff, but the following letter was—I thought—most amusing...
Dear Sir,

I am inquiring about the possibility of employment at the University.

I was recently sacked from my previous job for conspiring to distort company figures. Before that I was fired for gross incompetence and for losing critical corporate data; and before that for attempting to corrupt audits by getting my mates assigned to the role, and for attempting to cover-up my dishonesty by criminally inciting others to delete incriminating files and emails.

I was thinking maybe something in your Climate Research Unit, but I'm concerned I
may be over-qualified.

I also have two convictions for fraud. Is this enough?

Please advise soonest.

Yours Sincerely...

It's funny because it's true...

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/04/2011 10:16:00 pm


Monday, May 02, 2011

Two thoughts on AV

Posted by The Pedant-General at 5/02/2011 03:41:00 pm

(N.B. It's me, the P-G)

Two things and two things only.

Thing one: Why are we doing this anyway?
All this nonsense about electoral reform was supposed to be a reaction to the expenses scandal. Remember that? Our elected representatives were getting more and more remote from the daily lives of those they purported to represent and "something needed to be done" (tm).

In very much the same way as the EU Constitution Lisbon Treaty lost all connection with the Laeken Declaration to which it was supposed to give life, there has been shag all mention of why we are doing this in the first place. Quite possibly because it would be rather embarrassing if anyone did. It strikes me that this particular hoo-ha is a massive distraction.

Thing two: Has anyone else noticed that the examples of how AV works don't exactly make the case for more democracy?
I've lost count of the number of illustrations of the AV method that run along the lines of
"what shall we have for pudding?"
or
"what's your favourite biscuit?"
or some other irritatingly patronising LCD rubbish.

The correct answer to these questions is "Everyone should be able to choose their own sodding favourite pudding or biscuit or greatest Prime Minister in peace without either imposing their views on others or having the views of others imposed on them". In short, the discussions of voting reform merely call into question the size of the state: we might very well be a lot happier if a great deal less was in the hands of our elected representatives and more in our own.

I remain astonished that no-one has mentioned this at all. Quite possibly because it would be rather embarrassing if anyone did.

There. Exactly two things as promised. Except of course, that they might just be the same thing under the bonnet.

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Posted by The Pedant-General at 5/02/2011 03:41:00 pm


Sunday, May 01, 2011

It's the sun wot done it

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/01/2011 02:40:00 pm

A little while after the CRUDgate debacle, you may recall that Phil Jones (the head of the CRU) did an interesting Q&A session with the BBC's Roger "the Dodger" Harrabin. During this debate, Phil Jones admitted that there were four main periods, since records began, when the temperature rise was statistically significant: these were 1860–1880, 1910–1940, 1975–1998 and 1975–2009 (these latter two being, for all intents and purposes, one).

However, the really interesting admission was not that there were other statistically significant periods of warming—periods when CO2 was less likely to be a factor—but the reason for settling on CO2 being chosen as the warming factor in the first place...
H: If you agree that there were similar periods of warming since 1850 to the current period, and that the MWP is under debate, what factors convince you that recent warming has been largely man-made?

PJ: The fact that we can't explain the warming from the 1950s by solar and volcanic forcing—see my answer to your question D [where he referenced Chapter 9 of the IPCC AR4].

Essentially, these scientists chose CO2—and, by extension, man-made CO2—because they were unable to attribute the warming to any other likely factor.

There are, of course, significant problems with this approach, especially in a system as chaotic as Earth's climate. The main problem, of course, is that Jones and his Hockey Team buddies don't seem to have properly investigated other factors—even those which might directly affect their own theory—or, if they suspected that these factors might derail their theory, they attempted to hide them.

To refresh our memories, let us summarise some of the problems...
  • The "decline"
    The decline—of "hide the decline" fame—is a subset of the "divergence problem". Put simply, this is the fact that the tree-rings that many palaeoclimatologists reply on for temperature reconstructions do not follow modern temperatures; in fact, whilst direct measurements show a rise in temperature, the tree rings show a decline.

    Here is the problem shown in two easy-to-understand charts.

    If these tree-rings are not a reliable proxy for current temperatures, then why on earth would they be a reliable proxy for past temperatures. And if we cannot reliably build up a picture of past temperatures, then we cannot say that today's warming is unprecedented.

  • CO2 climate sensitivity and positive feedbacks
    One of the big problems with the whole anthropogenic carbon dioxide disaster theory is that just pumping lots of CO2 into the atmosphere will not warm the planet to disastrous levels—as explained over at Climate Skeptic.
    While the climate models are complex, and the actual climate even, err, complexer, we can shortcut the reaction of global temperatures to CO2 to a single figure called climate sensitivity. How many degrees of warming should the world expect for each doubling of CO2 concentrations (the relationship is logarithmic, so that is why sensitivity is based on doublings, rather than absolute increases — an increase of CO2 from 280 to 290 ppm should have a higher impact on temperatures than the increase from, say, 380 to 390 ppm).

    The IPCC reached a climate sensitivity to CO2 of about 3C per doubling. More popular (at least in the media) catastrophic forecasts range from 5C on up to about any number you can imagine, way past any range one might consider reasonable.

    But here is the key fact — Most folks, including the IPCC, believe the warming sensitivity from CO2 alone (before feedbacks) is around 1C or a bit higher (arch-alarmist Michael Mann did the research the IPCC relied on for this figure). All the rest of the sensitivity between this 1C and 3C or 5C or whatever the forecast is comes from feedbacks (e.g. hotter weather melts ice, which causes less sunlight to be reflected, which warms the world more). Feedbacks, by the way can be negative as well, acting to reduce the warming effect. In fact, most feedbacks in our physical world are negative, but alarmist climate scientists tend to assume very high positive feedbacks.

    What this means is that 70-80% or more of the warming in catastrophic warming forecasts comes from feedback, not CO2 acting alone. If it turns out that feedbacks are not wildly positive, or even are negative, then the climate sensitivity is 1C or less, and we likely will see little warming over the next century due to man.

    This means that the only really important question in the manmade global warming debate is the sign and magnitude of feedbacks.

    Right now, there are some very important—and unanswered—questions regarding feedbacks and general climate sensitivity. Some of these include:
    • What is the real sensitvity of climate to CO2 alone? The IPCC seem to be using about 1–1.2°C per doubling, but a recent paper seems to contradict that figure—placing it nearer 0.41°C per doubling.

    • Do clouds contribute to negative or positive feedback? This is a colossal issue! Most scientists accept that most of the warmth retention on the Earth is caused by water vapour in the air—indeed, it may account for anywhere between 75% and 95% of the greenhouse effect. You will have encountered this effect yourselves: a clear night is often very cold, whilst a cloudy one can be warm and muggy.

      And yet no one really knows whether water vapour has a positive or negative effect on global temperatures! For instance, clouds keep the warmth in but they also reflect sunlight back into space by increasing the Earth's albedo; is this effect positive, negative or, of course, neutral?

      Again, a recent paper sheds some more light on this.
      As I have written a zillion times, most of the projected warming from CO2 is not from CO2 directly but from positive feedback effects hypothesized in the climate. The largest of these is water vapor. Water is (unlike CO2) a strong greenhouse gas and if small amounts of warming increase water vapor in the atmosphere, that would be a positive feedback effect that would amplify warming. Most climate modellers assume relative humidity stays roughly flat as the world warms, meaning total water vapor content in the atmosphere will rise. In fact, this does not appear to have been the case over the last 50 years, as relative humidity has fallen while temperatures have risen. Further, in a peer-reviewed article, scientists suggest certain negative feedbacks that would tend to reduce atmospheric water vapor.

      So, whilst this would suggest that water vapour would have a negative, rather than positive, feedback effect on global temperatures, we still don't really know.

    • Why don't we know? Because, as Dr Roy Spencer points out in no uncertain terms, no one is seriously trying to answer these questions.
      In fact, NO ONE HAS YET FOUND A WAY WITH OBSERVATIONAL DATA TO TEST CLIMATE MODEL SENSITIVITY. This means we have no idea which of the climate models projections are more likely to come true.

      This dirty little secret of the climate modeling community is seldom mentioned outside the community. Don’t tell anyone I told you.

      This is why climate researchers talk about probable ranges of climate sensitivity. Whatever that means!…there is no statistical probability involved with one-of-a-kind events like global warming!

      There is HUGE uncertainty on this issue. And I will continue to contend that this uncertainty is a DIRECT RESULT of researchers not distinguishing between cause and effect when analyzing data.

    And yet we are apparently still willing to spend $78 billion per year to avoid 0.01°C of warming in 2100. Or, to put it another way...
    This is over $7 trillion a year per degree of avoided warming, again using even the EPA’s overly high climate sensitivity numbers. For scale, this is almost half the entire US GDP.

    Which is why, as I have said many times, the Precautionary Principle is utter bullshit—it assumes that the cost of acting is near-zero when it quite obviously is not.

  • Climate models do not produce new data
    Far too many people seem to believe that climate models produce data—they do not. They produce models that need to be verified with the real world and, so far, these models have not been very good at doing so.

    There are many reasons for this. One of the major ones is that we do not know all of the factors to be included, e.g. the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO)—which has been blamed for the recent lack of warming—was only noticed in 1997.

    One of the other reasons is that—as the HARRY_READ_ME.txt file showed—scientists are not particularly good or thorough programmers. Nor are they good or thorough archivers of data.

    And another reason is that we simply have not been measuring the climate long enough to understand some of the massive forces at work. The climate may not be inherently unknowable, but we certainly don't know enough at this stage.

An illustration of this last point is the reason that I started this essay. Having waded through the above, you might remember that Phil Jones maintained that the climate scientists attributed the Earth's warming to man-made CO2 because they couldn't "explain the warming from the 1950s by solar and volcanic forcing".

Now, it is true that the sunlight level—or Total Solar Irradiance (TSI)—was, if you smooth for seasonal variations, pretty static over the period in question. However...

Via The Englishman, I am pointed to this detailed article at Irish Weather Online, which has some interesting revelations regarding TSI and the PDO.
The influence of the sun has been discounted in the climate models as a contributor to the warming observed between 1975 and 1998. Those who support the theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), now known as anthropogenic climate change (even more recently described as climate disruption) so that recent cooling can be included in their scenario, always deny that the sun has anything to do with recent global temperature movements.

The reason given is that Total Solar Irradiance (TSI) varied so little over that period that it cannot explain the warming that was observed. I don’t yet accept that TSI tells the whole story because it is ill defined and speculative as regards it’s representation of all the different ways the sun could affect the Earth via the entire available range of physical processes.

Despite the limitations of TSI as an indicator of solar influence I think there are conclusions we can draw from the records we do have. Oddly, I have not seen them discussed properly anywhere else, especially not by AGW enthusiasts.

Helpfully, however, the author has included a graph showing the TSI over the last few hundred years. [Click the image for bigger version.]


It is true that, as the alarmists say, since 1961 the average level of TSI has been approximately level if one averages out the peaks and troughs from solar cycles 19 through to 23.

However, those solar cycles show substantially higher levels of TSI than have ever previously occurred in the historical record.

Because of the height of the TSI level one cannot simply ignore it as the IPCC and the modellers have done.

Indeed not. Because here is a smoking gun as far as solar irradiance is concerned...
The critical issue is that having achieved such high levels of TSI by 1961 the sun was already producing more heat than was required to maintain a stable Earth temperature. On that basis alone the theory of AGW cannot be sustained and should now die.
Throughout the period 1961 to about 2001, there was a steady cumulative net warming effect within the oceans from the sun. The fact that TSI was, on average, level during that period is entirely irrelevant and misleading.

Quite so.
It is hardly likely that such a high level of TSI compared to historical levels is going to have no effect at all on global temperature changes and indeed during most of that period there was also an enhanced period of positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation that imparted increasing warmth from the oceans to the atmosphere. My link [...] contains details of my view that the sun drives the various oceanic oscillations which in turn drive global temperature variations with all other influences including CO2 being minor and often cancelling themselves out leaving the solar/oceanic driver supreme.

It could be said that the increase in TSI from a little over 1363 to a little under 1367 Watts per square metre over the 400 year period shown is pretty insignificant. However a square metre is a miniscule portion of the surface of the planet so that even a tiny increase or decrease in the heat being received on average over each such tiny area translates into a huge change in total heat budget for the entire planet. The smallness of the apparent range of variation is a function of the smallness of the area subdivision used rather than an indication of insignificance. It is fortunate for us that the sun is not more variable.

One square metre is, indeed, a tiny proportion of the planet's surface: the Earth has a surface area of approximately 510,072,000 km2 which is (and feel free to correct me on this: all these noughts get me confused) 510,072,000,000 m2. Or over five hundred and ten billion square metres.

The small increase from 1363 Watts per m2 to 1367 Watts per m2 would lead to an energy increase of some 2,040,288,000,000 Watts—or a little over 2 trillion Watts.

To put that into perspective, a large coal-fired power station produces about 700 MW, which is 700,000,000 Watts: so, this small increase in solar output is equivalent to the output of about 2,915 large coal-fired power stations.
Amongst other things [this link] shows how the negative PDO from 1961 to 1975 cancelled out the warming effects of solar cycles 18 and 19 by imparting less warmth from oceans to air and led to a slight cooling trend during those years despite the relatively high TSI levels. The switch to a positive PDO from 1975 to 2001 allowed the solar warming influence in the air to resume. We now have both a falling TSI and a negative PDO which is an entirely different (indeed opposite) scenario to the one which led to the concerns about runaway warming.

If the current scenario continues for a few more years then real world observations will resolve most of the disputed issues. For the past 10 years the real world has been moving in the direction predicted by the solar driver theory and in my articles I have described the oceanic mechanism that transfers solar input to the atmosphere and then to Space.

If global temperatures were to resume warming despite a reduction in solar activity and/or a negative PDO then the alarmist position might be vindicated. The alarmist camp is predicting such a resumption of warming. The Hadley Centre suggested 2010 but others have more recently suggested 2015. If there is no resumption of warming by 2015 then AGW is dead as a theory. It would not count in favour of AGW if any resumed warming were accompanied by increased solar activity or a positive PDO because that would put the solar driver back in control.

So, it's a wait and see policy...

The trouble, of course, is that if this theory is correct, we humans are very much luckier than we would suppose. Because, as far as we can ascertain, a change of just 4 Watts per square metre in TSI means the difference between the mini-Ice Age and a warming planet. That is not a pleasant thought, as the author ennumerates in his conclusion.
The whole of modern civilisation has been made possible by a period of solar stability within a band of less than 4 Watts per square metre. It will not be a result of anything we do if solar changes suddenly go outside that band. On a balance of probability it is more likely that the TSI will soon drop back from the recent unusual highs but remaining within the band of 4 Watts per square metre. It would need the arrival of the next ice age to go significantly below 1363 but even a reduction down to 1365 from present levels could introduce a dangerous level of cooling depending on where the tipping point currently lies.

A period of several decades of reduced solar activity will quickly need more emissions producing activity to SAVE the planet yet nonetheless the populations of most living species will be decimated. At present human population levels a repeat of the Little Ice Age a mere 400 years ago will cause mass starvation worldwide.

Indeed. The last severe reduction in temperature, at the end of the Mediaeval Warm Period, caused widespread famine across the entirety of the Northern hemisphere and caused millions of deaths over a number of years.
The AGW risk analysis process (if anyone ever bothered with one) is seriously flawed.

The whole article is worth reading—even though I have quoted much of it here—and chimes with some of the other bits and pieces that I have been looking into recently.

If the author is correct, let us sincerely hope that our societies are more ready for the temperature downturn than those of 1315...

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/01/2011 02:40:00 pm


Polywell fusion news

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/01/2011 02:19:00 pm

As Samizdata's Dale Amon has reported, there has been some news on the Polywell Fusion reactor: well, it is not so much news of progress, but news that progress is continuing.

The Polywell experiment—conducted by EMC2—is currently running at WB8–8.1, with the awarding contract details shown here.
RECOVERY-- Research Development Test Evaluation (RDT&E) Plan Plasma Fusion (Polywell) project. The Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, China Lake has awarded a Cost Plus Fixed Fee contract for research, analysis,
development, and testing to validate the basic physics of the plasma fusion (polywell) concept as well as requirements to provide the Navy with data for potential applications of polywell fusion with a delivered item, wiffleball 8 (WB8) and options for a modified wiffleball 8 (WB8.1) and modified ion gun.

The progress is reported on the US contracts progress page (for all its problems, the US government makes Cameron's promises of transparency look like the obfuscating arse-wibble that it is), which reports that the project is "More than 50% Completed". So, no research continues and no massive barriers have yet been found.

It's also worth reading some of the comments at the Talk Polywell boards—a forum on which R Nabel, currently heading the EMC2 experiments, often posts.

Related posts on Polywell can be found here: Polywell reactor

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 5/01/2011 02:19:00 pm


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